Identifying and Defining the Right Language Program
By Dr. Vasthi Acosta
Like all mindful parents, immigrants placing children in schools worry about preparing their children to be successful in school.
Sometimes, they can be less than truthful to school staff about the language spoken at home because they fear that their children will be discriminated against, and not given an equal education.
Here is one example that occurs when arents come in to register their child at school. In doing so, they may need a translator because they are having difficulty completing the paperwork in English.
But when they come to the question that asks, “Is any other language other than English spoken at home?”, they answer “No.”
Yet, if they are having trouble completing the form, and with reading or speaking English fully, it is likely another language is spoken in the home.
Still, parents too often answer this question falsely out of fear that their child will be railroaded into a sub-standard classroom.
While the origin of the intentions is good, parents should be aware that they may be doing damage instead.
Answering falsely will not help their child, and will likely deprive the student of language enrichment programs they could benefit from.
Instead, parents should look to become familiar with the different language programs and options available to their families.
In New York City, there are four different programs offered, although not every school offers all of them.
Usually a school will offer only one of these programs.
Get informed about what options are offered in your child’s school.
ESL: English as a Second Language
A school that offers English as a Second Language (ESL) will identify the students who need this service by giving them the Language Assessment Battery Test, Revised Edition [LAB-R]. If the student passes this test, they do not have to receive services. If the student doesn’t pass the test, then the school must provide ESL services. Usually the school will pull the student out of class to meet in a small group with an ESL teacher. There are specific guidelines set by the state as to the amount of instructional time a student must receive depending on their proficiency level.
A transitional bilingual program is one where the school has identified bilingual classes. The teacher is licensed as a bilingual teacher and teaches in both languages. The goal is to prepare the student to test out of the class and transition into a general education class once they pass the New York State English as a Second Language Achievement Test (NYSESLAT) exam.
A dual language program is one where the school teaches every student in the program in both languages. They are never expected to transition out of the class but instead expected to become fully bilingual in both languages taught.
An immersion program teaches students only in the language they need to acquire. For example, if the student needs to learn English then they will only be taught in English. The idea is to immerse the student in the new language so that they are forced to learn and use it.
Parents need to know their child and determine which program will best support their learning.
It is an important decision and not one a parent should make without careful thought. Every school is obligated to inform parents of the services they have available for students who are not fluent English speakers.
Parents, make sure to ask questions and inform yourself, so your child gets every support available to make their learning successful.
Dr. Vasthi Acosta is The Amber Charter School (ACS)’s Head of School. ACS serves 450 children, in the K-5 grades, from Northern Manhattan and the Bronx.